Cool-season food plots attract more deer
Fast forward to November, opening of deer gun season. You make it to your stand in the dark, load and wait for dawn. As light filters over the landscape shapes take form and several of the shapes have white tails. Your objective.
Twin fawns born last summer bounce in. Eager for an oat breakfast. Ah, the carefree behavior of youth. Then their mother doe pokes her head out from a deer trail and checks the breeze for human interlopers. Finding no scary scent — you are down wind — she saunters into the plot for her breakfast.
She pops her head up periodically, checking for you or maybe her soon-to-be lover. You wait for the nice eight-point you saw on game camera. You take a moment to reflect on what you did to allow these things to go well.
One thing you did was plant a nice food plot, an herbaceous attractant as natural deer foods dwindle in the fall. Along with cleaning out the deer camp of last seasons’ food residue and trophies wood rats piled up, planting food plots is a late summer/early fall ritual. Food plots provide habitat diversity and supplement natural wildlife foods. They attract deer for harvest and food plot openings can be favorite strutting grounds for gobblers in spring and bugging areas for hens with their broods in summer.
Here are some tips on how to be more effective with your food plots.
If your hunting area is dominated by woods, try to have a good portion of it (5-10 percent) in openings. When you calculate it, area in openings is usually smaller than you thought. Make plots as large as possible, at least an acre (about 70-by-70 yards square) each if you can, but certainly large enough for full sunlight to reach the plants.
Food plots often are located in existing openings, such as power or transmission line rights-of-way, roadsides and log decks. Soil compacted from logging might need to be broken up with a chisel or breaking plow. If poaching is a problem, put plots away from roads but adjacent to other good habitat, such as streamside zones so it’s easy for deer to get to them from bedding areas or turkeys from roost sites.
Locate sites with good soil; they make better plots. Avoid boggy sites; food plants won’t grow well and you can get your tractor stuck. Also avoid steep slopes which can erode. A soil map can help you make these decisions.
Test your soil for pH (acidity) and nutrients. Results can direct you to effective lime and fertilizer application rates. For optimum nutrient uptake and growth most plants in plots grow in soils close to a neutral pH (6 to 7). Lime can reduce acidity to desired levels, but it takes months to break down to accomplish that. So lime plots several months before planting. A general rule of thumb is a ton per acre for acidic upland soils.
With your soil close to a neutral acidity, you’re ready for planting.
Fertilizer breaks down quickly so you can fertilize as you plant. A general rule of thumb is 300 to 400 pounds of 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 per acre. For fall (cool season) plots, several plants are suitable. Wheat, oats and rye are winter grasses easy to grow and the succulent fertilized plants are relished by deer in the fall as native plants become less digestible.
Other favorites that remain palatable through winter and some into summer are some legumes, which fix nitrogen from the atmosphere so needless of that in the fertilizer. Several clovers are suited for different soils and are palatable at different times of year. Crimson and arrowleaf do well on many sites in Louisiana. Some clovers are perennial and don’t have to be planted every year. Others can reproduce themselves with the appropriate cultural treatment. Austrian winter peas are another popular choice. Another one easy to grow and available into summer is hairy vetch. I’ve watched turkey hens feed voraciously on this plant in spring, while impatient gobblers strutted nearby.
The depth seeds planted in the soil often is directly related to their size — the larger the deeper. Small clover or rye grass seeds are just barely covered with soil. Larger peas are planted a couple of inches deep. If you use clover with larger seeds, plant the larger seeds deeper first, then overseed with clover and lightly cover.
If weeds are a problem, spray 2 percent glyphosate solution while weeds are actively growing. An herbicide application followed by burning will reduce the dead material without a lot of tractor work.
Planting food plots can be rewarding. You’ll feel a special sense of accomplishment when you see that nice buck ease into the plot testing the wind for that doe of his dreams that’s been feeding there.
(Dr. James G. Dickson is an award-winning author, researcher, wildlife biologist, professor and an LFA director emeritus. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)